The best and most enlightening Dark Ages and Viking books

Who am I?

I discovered writing in my twenties when I was living alone in a hut in a remote village in Indonesia with no electricity. I began a novel to fill the lonely acres of time and found myself transported by my own imagination. I realised this interior world was one I could happily inhabit for life. It took me years to get there; I was a journalist for 15 years, and 44 before my first novel—Outlaw, about a gangster-ish Robin Hood—was published; but I haven’t stopped writing fiction since. I now have 17 novels under my belt, some of them bona fide bestsellers, and aim to keep writing till I drop. 

I wrote...

Book cover of The Last Berserker

What is my book about?

The greatest warriors are forged in the flames—and that is exactly what my heroes Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir yearn to be as they travel south from Scandinavia into Saxony, towards the Irminsul, the One Tree that links the Nine Worlds of the Middle-Realm. In this holy place, they hope to summon their animal spirits so they can enter the ranks of the legendary berserkir: the elite fighters of the North. When the Christian Franks annex Saxony, in 772AD, vowing to force their faith on the pagans at the point of a sword, Bjarki and Tor join their Saxon brethren in resisting the might of the Frankish invader, who will one day be called Charlemagne.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia

Angus Donald Why did I love this book?

I studied magic, sorcery, and spirit possession as a student anthropologist for a few months in Indonesia in the late 1980s. Thirty-odd years later, when I came to write a series of novels about Viking warriors being possessed by the spirits of bears and wolves, which they believed lent them a berserk frenzy in battle, I drew on my own meagre experience and on the far more impressive work of Neil Price, a professor of Archaeology at Uppsala University and expert on the pre-Christian religions. In The Viking Way, Price explains Viking belief systems and tackles occult subjects such as seithr, shamanism, and the supernatural empowerment of aggression eloquently and extensively. I couldn’t have written my novels without his illumination.

By Neil Price,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Viking Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Magic, sorcery and witchcraft are among the most common themes of the great medieval Icelandic sagas and poems, the problematic yet vital sources that provide our primary textual evidence for the Viking Age that they claim to describe. Yet despite the consistency of this picture, surprisingly little archaeological or historical research has been done to explore what this may really have meant to the men and women of the time. This book examines the evidence for Old Norse sorcery, looking at its meaning and function, practice and practitioners, and the complicated constructions of gender and sexual identity with which these…

Book cover of The Winter King

Angus Donald Why did I love this book?

Cornwell is the godfather of modern historical fiction. And his masterful Arthurian trilogy, which begins with The Winter King, is the finest of his many fine works. This was the series that inspired me to become a historical fiction writer, along with many others. I was moved to tears by his tragic tale of the doomed warlord Arthur, a Welsh-speaking Briton, trying to bring peace and justice to a strife-torn 5th-century England, while fending off the encroaching alien culture of the Saxons. The names of the characters are all Welsh, which takes some getting used to, but the story, narrated by half-Saxon, half-British warrior Derfel, is bloody, brutal, and beautifully written, and irresistibly sweeps the reader along. This trilogy is the pinnacle of historical fiction.

By Bernard Cornwell,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Winter King as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uther, the High King of Britain, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos - threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready to invade. As he struggles to unite Britain and hold back the Saxon enemy, Arthur is embroiled in a doomed romance with beautiful Guinevere.

Book cover of Lancelot

Angus Donald Why did I love this book?

Kristian was also inspired by Bernard Cornwell, and this elegiac Arthurian novel openly proclaims his debt. Set in the same 5th-century world, Kristian tells the story of the famous love triangle from the perspective of the dashing wife-stealer, Lancelot.

The language he uses is poetic and poignant; and while we know in our hearts it will all end tragically, you can’t help cheering for Lancelot and his love Guinevere, and feeling sympathy for poor Arthur, and hoping it will all work out happily somehow.

By Giles Kristian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lancelot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Conn Iggulden called it 'a masterpiece' while The Times hailed it 'a gorgeous, rich retelling of the Arthurian tale' . . .

In Britain, Rome's legions are but a distant memory.

And Uther Pendragon is dying.

Enemies stalk the land.

Into this uncertain world a boy is cast - an outsider, plagued by memories of those he's lost.

Under the watchful eye of Merlin, the boy begins his journey to manhood. He meets another outcast, Guinevere - wild, proud and beautiful. And he is dazzled by Arthur - a warrior who carries the hopes of the people like…

Book cover of King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne

Angus Donald Why did I love this book?

Nelson’s masterly biography of Charlemagne is a dense, scholarly but still gripping account of one of the most interesting and influential monarchs in European history. I struggle to think of any figure who has has a greater impact that the King of the Franks and, later, Emperor of the Romans, who drew the boundaries of the continent as we know them today. This was my most reliable go-to source on Charlemagne and his long wars with the pagan Saxons, which is the subject of my own series.

By Janet L. Nelson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked King and Emperor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'A remarkable book: the dramatic story of a truly extraordinary man ... brilliant' Helen Castor, author of She-Wolves

A major new biography of one of the most extraordinary of all rulers, and the father of present-day Europe

Charles, King of the Franks, is one of the most remarkable figures ever to rule a European super-state. That is why he is so often called 'Charles the Great': by the French 'Charlemagne', and by the Germans 'Karl der Grosse'. His strength of character was felt to be remarkable from early…

Book cover of The Lord of the Rings

Angus Donald Why did I love this book?

No list of influences on our knowledge and enjoyment of Dark Ages and Viking culture would be complete without a mention of Tolkien. He has made obscure, dusty, half-forgotten North European myths mainstream in the 21st century and pretty much invented the fantasy genre. My Viking novels are historical, but they have all been massively influenced by Tolkien’s works. Every hero I write is compared in my mind to Aragorn; every villain measured against the treacherous Grima Wormtongue; each decent, humble everyman is a Hobbit. Tolkien’s enormous shadow still falls over every novel set in the Dark Ages or the Viking period—and I suspect it always will.

By J.R.R. Tolkien,

Why should I read it?

52 authors picked The Lord of the Rings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of…

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The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

Book cover of The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

Alexander Rose Author Of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

A long time ago, I was an early-aviation historian, but eventually realized that I knew only half the story—the part about airplanes. But what about airships? Initially, I assumed, like so many others, that they were a flash-in-the-pan, a ridiculous dead-end technology, but then I realized these wondrous giants had roamed and awed the world for nearly four decades. There was a bigger story here of an old rivalry between airplanes and airships, one that had since been forgotten, and Empires of the Sky was the result.

Alexander's book list on Zeppelin airships

What is my book about?

From the author of Washington’s Spies, the thrilling story of two rival secret agents — one Confederate, the other Union — sent to Britain during the Civil War.

The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was ordered to acquire a clandestine fleet intended to break Lincoln’s blockade, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, an upright Quaker lawyer determined to stop Bulloch in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal.

Their battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Washington's Spies, the thrilling story of the Confederate spy who came to Britain to turn the tide of the Civil War-and the Union agent resolved to stop him.

"Entertaining and deeply researched...with a rich cast of spies, crooks, bent businessmen and drunken sailors...Rose relates the tale with gusto." -The New York Times

In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents-one a Confederate, the other his Union rival-were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission.

The South's James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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